As David Cameron prepares to decide whether to expand London’s Heathrow Airport, a tree he once sponsored close by to signal his opposition to a third runway is dead, the orchard where it stood covered in weeds.

The U.K. government will make up its mind how to expand airport capacity after publication of a report by Howard Davies due as early as next week. Campaigners, who say expansion of Heathrow would add to pollution in west London, fear Cameron will give the go-ahead to a new runway after his Conservative Party watered down that opposition in the run-up to the May 7 election. London Mayor Boris Johnson is among senior Tories who are against such a move.

Cameron joined a campaign by the environmental pressure group Greenpeace in 2009 to plant an orchard and set up community gardens on a field north of the airport that would be destroyed under one of the runway proposals. At the time he was leading the Tories, then in opposition, into the 2010 election and was seeking votes in west London.

“The trees all died; they didn’t look after them, they weren’t watered or anything so they all just expired,” Michael Aslam, who owns the land the orchard was planted on, said in a telephone interview this week. “Everything that was there has been removed.”

Zac Goldsmith, a Tory lawmaker in southwest London who helped fund the orchard, has said he’ll resign from the House of Commons and force a special election if Cameron backs expansion. His Richmond Park district is directly under the Heathrow flight path.

‘Find the Tree’

Johnson, who returned to the Commons last month to represent Uxbridge in northwest London and who takes part in meetings of the prime minister’s “political cabinet,” urged reporters at an event last week to “find the tree” that represented Cameron’s opposition.

“Be in no doubt, there will be a very, very frenzied lobby to get this through,” Johnson said of the proposed third runway. “There will be a huge struggle, but we can win and we will win.”

There are now no trees left in the former orchard behind the William IV pub in the village of Sipson. Only chest-high weeds remain of the community planting venture.

Back in October 2009, Cameron told a public meeting in Richmond that “the third runway at Heathrow is not going ahead, no ifs, no buts.”

A month later, Cameron “adopted” a tree in the Sipson orchard, Greenpeace announced in a press release, joining other lawmakers and celebrities “to show their opposition to expansion at the airport.”

‘Withered and Died’

The Tory manifesto for the 2010 election pledged to block a third runway at Heathrow and stop the expansion of Gatwick and Stansted, London’s other main airports.

In September 2012, the prime minister announced a review of British airport capacity, pushing back any decision on Heathrow until after the 2015 election. The party’s program for the vote in May said only that it would “respond to the Airports Commission’s final report.” Cameron’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment on Wednesday.

The symbolism of the tree’s demise has not been lost on campaigners against the expansion of the airport, especially as it was one of a series of stunts, including putting a wind turbine on the roof of his home and dog-sledding in the arctic, that Cameron used to demonstrate his environmental credentials after taking over as party leader in 2005.

“There’s a lot of symbolism. When he said ‘no ifs, no buts’ people took him at his word, there were no caveats, then months after his election as prime minister he introduced the caveat that the commitment was just for one Parliament,” John McDonnell, the opposition Labour Party lawmaker who represents Sipson, said in a telephone interview. “Just like the tree’s withered and died, so did his promise, it’s angered a lot of people.”

 

This article was written by Thomas Penny from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Photo Credit: Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron watches passengers pass through immigration control during a visit to Terminal 5, at Heathrow Airport. Richard Pohle / Reuters